After appealing to Justice Markus Koehnen’s ruling that Bill 124 — the erroneously named Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act — was unconstitutional and undermined free collective bargaining, Premier Doug Ford conceded. Koehnen’s analysis highlighted the lack of valid rationale behind the act, particularly its failure to substantiate concerns over unsustainable public spending. The fumble by the Ford government now carries a valuation of $4 billion in settlements across public sector workers, 74% of whom are women whereas in the health care and social assistance sectors alone, women are over represented at 80% of the total workforce. These industries employ 1.2 million female workers, and account for 32% of all women employees in Ontario.

The Ford administration appealed the Superior Court’s ruling, prolonging the wait for compensation for numerous workers and incurring significant legal expenses. Ultimately, in February of this year, Ontario’s Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The bill, which was passed in 2019, capped wage increases at once per cent annually for three years for public and post-secondary education workers, healthcare workers, provincial public servants and a plethora of non-profit employees working for organizations relying on provincial funding. 

According to a report released on March 6, 2024, by Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) entitled “Women’s Wages and the attack on broader public sector workers”, Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s policies are responsible for a significant wage gap for the chiefly female workforce in Ontario’s public sector. 

When it comes to men, the narrative shifts – education, health, and social assistance make up merely 9.0% of total male employment in Ontario. Consequently, as a collective, men are far less influenced by developments in these sectors. These industries constitute the vast majority of the provincial broader public sector (BPS), which represents the portion of the public sector primarily financed by the provincial government, encompassing 18.5% of the Ontario workforce. The influence of the BPS on women’s wages holds considerable weight.

Sharon Richer, the provincial secretary-treasurer of OCHU/CUPE in Sudbury, expressed disappointment with the report’s findings. “This represents an assault on women’s wages by Doug Ford. By imposing wage restraints on public sector workers, the Ontario PCs are impeding progress for women,” stated Richer in the press release. She emphasized that it seems the Conservatives are devaluing the labor of women in crucial sectors like healthcare, public social work, and education. Richer condemned the Ontario government’s decision to implement wage cuts, particularly affecting “the women who care for patients, the elderly, and other vulnerable members of our population,” calling it unconscionable.

In 2010, the provincial government initiated austerity measures targeting wages in the broader public sector (BPS). This began with demands for BPS unions to negotiate a wage freeze, marking the onset of over a decade of wage austerity for BPS workers. Particularly impactful were the measures on women workers. The austerity measures gained momentum following the introduction of Bill 115, aimed at freezing BPS wages, leading to a showdown in 2012 where unions and others successfully opposed the bill. Despite retaining the right to free collective bargaining for BPS workers and the withdrawal of the bill, the aftermath resulted in significantly lower wage settlements for hundreds of thousands of BPS workers, trailing behind both private sector settlements and inflation. 

A brief respite occurred in 2017 prior to the provincial election, but after the current government took office in 2018, wages further declined. The enactment of Bill 124 by the new government reinstated lower wage settlements for the BPS.

The Ford administration has emphasized its support for private sector, blue-collar workers, a demographic primarily composed of men, who face challenges due to deindustrialization and shifts in the labour market. However, since the current government took office, there has been a notable decline in wages within the healthcare sector, significantly impacting the earnings of female workers and increasing vacancies in the healthcare and social services sectors. 

As of 2023, women across Ontario were earning 87.2 cents for every dollar earned by men, compared to 88 cents in 2018, the year Ford was elected. OCHU/CUPE contended in their release that this report illustrates how Ontario government policies not only harm female employees but also compromise the quality of public services, impacting the well-being of all Ontarians.

By Jacqueline St. Pierre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 10, 2024 at 15:31

This item reprinted with permission from   Manitoulin Expositor   Little Current, Ontario
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